Should I impose ban anticipating media reports: Chamber judge

Supreme Court of BangladeshFile Photo

Chamber judge Enayetur Rahim of the Appellate Division asked during a hearing that, “Should I impose a ban anticipating what the newspaper will report or not?”

He raised the question during the hearing on the plea seeking ban on publishing any news, statement, opinion and videos online regarding overseas assets of S Alam Group chairman Mohammad Saiful Alam and his wife Farzana Parvin.

Ajmalul Hossain KC, the lawyer of the petitioners said in the hearing that the news had spread even in Taiwan. There has been a media report over this there.

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The court said, “How will you stop someone from reporting?  There are separate provisions in case someone publishes a news breaching court order. However, should I impose a ban anticipating what the newspaper will report or not? The report doesn’t contain anything on the status-quo either.”

Earlier, English newspaper, ‘The Daily Star’ published a report with the title ‘S Alam’s Aladin’s Lamp’ on 4 August.

Lawyer Syed Sayedul Haque Suman brought the report to the High Court’s attention.

The High Court passed a suo moto rule to investigate the allegation made against S Alam Group in the report. In the report, it was alleged that the company has transferred large sums of money abroad and is investing it without the permission of Bangladeshi authorities.

On 6 August, the accused Saiful Alam and his wife filed a leave to appeal at the Appellate Division. On 23 August, the Appellate Division ordered all parties to maintain status-quo and fixed next year’s 8 January as the date for the hearing on the leave to appeal.

After that, S Alam and his wife made the appeal seeking a ban on publishing any news, statement, opinion and videos online regarding their overseas assets.

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Lawyers Rokon Uddin Mahmud, Ajmalul Hossain KC and Muhammad Saifullah Mamun stood for the petitioner while senior advocate Khurshid Alam Khan represented the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) in the hearing.

‘Found no prima facie to impose ban’

Referring to the statement of Syed Sayedul Haque, senior lawyer Ajmalul Hossain said, “An allegation has been brought against S Alam. The issue is still under trial. An issue under trial is being discussed, as if it is a media-trial.”

The court said, “Those (media) against which you sought ban are neither in favour of the suo moto nor in favour of the leave to appeal. How will I impose a ban on anybody who is not affiliated with the case?”

At one point Ajmalul Hossain KC said, “It is mainly needed for The Daily Star.”

The court said, “The Daily Star has published their report. And you have published your narrative through advertisements in newspapers. I don’t see any prima facie to impose a ban on them (media). Have they published anything after imposing the status-quo or not? You have mentioned media trials. But, I don’t see anything that can hamper the trial.”

Referring to the example of several cases, Ajmalul Hossain KC said, "A stay order is being sought so that the public is not misled by news reports. We cannot move to the High Court due to the status-quo. We are seeking it to prevent media trials.”

‘The verdict is historic only when it is in favour’

At one point of the hearing the court said, “We all are victims of trial. Whenever, we, the judges, pass a verdict, the winner of the case term it as historic. However, the people, who didn’t get the verdict in their favour, term it as a premeditated verdict. The reactions are arbitrary. Some statements are given on Facebook too. We are helpless regarding these. As senior members of the bar, you as well as we all have some responsibilities to uphold the dignity of the court and the verdict passed by it.”

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Addressing the lawyers, the court said, “We could consider the plea if there was any follow up report in the media or talks regarding this even after order to maintain status-quo."

ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam said in the hearing that, “The court issued the suo moto rule based on a report of The Daily Star. The rule was not issued on the basis of any report from the Prothom Alo or the New Age. Then what is the point in involving them in this? The point is – nobody can talk against me. You have to remain silent. Media is a great source of information for the ACC. More than 15 per cent of the cases investigated by the ACC are based on the information provided in media reports. A stay order on media reports will hamper the inflow of information for the ACC.”

At this point the court, “The history of investigative reporting goes back to the beginning of civilisation. There are provisions in case the report is wrong or premeditated or defaming. Everyone should abide by the rules.”

Lawyer Ajmalul Hossain KC said, “They (media) should publish reports if any step is not taken even after the complaint is lodged. However, they are publishing news beforehand.”

The court said the newspapers will publish any information regarding discrepancy or corruption. There are different ways to verify whether the report was deliberate or has been published to defame someone.

Speaking regarding the hearing, the court said, “The appeal has been enlisted. The petitioner can raise the appeal during the hearing of the leave to appeal.”

The hearing of the leave to appeal is scheduled to be held on 8 January.